Halloween history and alternatives to trick-or-treating


Azalea R. Bolton - Storyteller



Halloween is one of the oldest of the holidays which we celebrate. It’s actually the second favorite holiday, with Christmas being the No. 1 favorite.

Some people consider Halloween to be a time for fun, putting on their favorite costume, trick-or-treating, or for decorating their house and yard. Other people consider it a time for superstitions, ghosts, goblins and evil spirits.

Halloween is always on Oct. 31, which is the last day of the Celtic calendar. It was originally a pagan holiday which honored the dead. It was referred to as All Hallows Eve, dates back more than 2000 years and is the evening before All Saints Day. All Saints Day was created by Christians to convert pagans and is on Nov. 1. The Catholic church honored saints on this day.

The Druids — a Celtic culture found in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe — celebrated the Feast of Samhain, which was held each year on Oct. 31 to honor the dead. Samhain was a harvest festival held to mark the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of a new one. The Celts believed the souls of the dead roamed the streets and villages at night. Since they didn’t think all of the spirits were friendly, they began the custom of leaving gifts and treats to pacify them and to ensure a plentiful crop for the coming year. This is the custom that eventually evolved into what we call trick-or-treating.

I personally never knew the history of Halloween until recently. When I was growing up, we didn’t really get into the habit of dressing up like Dracula or anything like the Walking Dead. We would just use what we had on hand to dress up, such as a cowboy/cowgirl hat and boots or whatever else we had available. About the scariest thing I remember seeing someone dressed as was a ghost and that only brought to mind a spirit such as Casper the Friendly Ghost, who wasn’t scary at all. It was fairly easy to dress up like a ghost, too. All you needed to have was an old white sheet with some holes cut out for your eyes.

One year when I was a child, one of my brothers did take an old sheet and use it to try and scare the rest of us as we started out to go trick-or-treating. When we walked by a tree in the backyard he jumped out and grabbed me from behind. I’ll have to admit, I didn’t really think that ghost was too friendly at all until I realized who it was behind that sheet. If anyone had been able to see me in the dark they would have probably seen that I turned about the same shade of white as that sheet!

After my family moved back to Richmond County, I can remember the Halloween carnivals that were held at school. There was bobbing for apples, fishing, cake walks, prizes for the best costume and lots of fun activities to do. Of course, there was always lots of candy to win and small prizes that were not really worth very much (unless you were a child who didn’t receive a gift except on your birthday and at Christmas).

When I was in my teens, it seemed like a lot of churches started having what they called fall festivals to keep kids from going trick-or-treating at Halloween. At that point, I was too old to go treat or treating anyway, but I did enjoy helping with activities for the younger kids. Those activities were pretty much the same ones that we’d had at the Halloween carnivals at school, but the kids didn’t dress up like monsters or any other scary critters.

Nowadays, a lot of churches have Trunk-or-Treat and that can be a lot of fun for the whole family, especially if they decorate their trunk and the kids help hand out the treats. I’ve seen times when kids were having so much fun helping out at their vehicles that they didn’t want to go visit any others and get goodies for themselves.

One of the fall festivals that I remember the most happened after I was married. My parents’ church asked Dad to provide some music as part of their celebration. Dad played the guitar and simply loved to sing and play. I’ve never been able to play any musical instrument, but I grew up singing with Dad accompanying us on guitar. Our family did a lot of singing for our own enjoyment and occasionally at other public functions. That year, I had gone with Dad and Mom to sing at the senior center in Ellerbe a couple times and to customer appreciation day at one of the banks there in town. Since the festival was going to be held in the church basement, we didn’t sing just hymns and gospel music, but did a few other songs we thought folks would enjoy. One of the members of the church regularly went to the senior center also, and Dad asked him to sing “In Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home” like he’d done when we were at the center. The other church members really got a kick out of that because they had never even heard him sing. I’ll admit, he didn’t have a great voice but it was a lot of fun to hear him try. I guess the old saying “make a joyful noise” really applied to him as well as to us, because I know for a fact we were far from perfect either.

Just remember that Halloween is fast approaching, so if any of you believe that the souls or spirits of the dead do roam the streets on that night, then you’ll probably want to lock your doors and stay inside the house and not come out until Nov. 1.

Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the Richmond and Anson County Historical Societies, and co-author of the book “Just Passing Time Together.”

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Azalea R. Bolton

Storyteller

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